Track News

Santa Anita’s Bad Luck Moves To “Safe” Del Mar

Racing at Del Mar. © Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

The bad luck that visited Santa Anita Park the past year resulting in 37 horse deaths and culminating in the fatal breakdown of four-year-old gelding Mongolian Groom during this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic has migrated 115 miles south to San Diego’s Del Mar race track.

The third day of its Nov. 8–Dec. 1 autumn meet resulted in the fatalities of two horses and a “significant” injury requiring surgery to a third.

On Sunday, three-year-old gelding Ghost Street suffered a left front leg sesamoid injury in the third race, a 1 1/8 mile maiden turf race.

He was “humanely euthanized” according to track officials, announced via Twitter:

In the sixth race, a 5 1/2 furlong claiming race on the main synthetic track, three-year-old colt Prayer Warrior also suffered a front leg injury and was euthanized. Track officials did not release details of the injury. The euthanization was confirmed via Twitter by Zoe Metz, a member of the owning family:

A third horse, Princess Dorian, suffered a left front leg injury during the earlier $8,000 claiming second race and had been vanned off to San Luis Rey equine hospital, where trainer Andrew Lerner reported via Twitter she was “in good spirits” following successful surgery.

Lerner added:  “It’s great to have owners like Erik Johnson who told me immediately ‘to spare no expense to get her better.’” Principal owner Johnson is a defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League.

Princess Dorian post surgery.

Since 2016, Del Mar has been rated one of the safest horse racing venues in the U.S., tallying 0.78 horsedeaths per 1,000 starts last year, according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database. Two horses did die over the summer in a July training collision. In 2017, 12 horses were lost and 23 died in 2016. The track’s death rate has been on the decline.

Mac McBride, the director of media for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said in a statement to ABC News that the track was ranked the “safest major racetrack in 2018.”

“We believe Sunday’s events were an anomaly for us based on our exemplary safety record,” McBride continued. “Del Mar will continue to work with our industry stakeholders to ensure the safest possible racing and training environment.”

On Friday, prior to the fatalities, Joe Harper, CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club stated “Safety is everything here.”

The paddock at Del Mar. ©Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Del Mar is owned by the Stronach Group, which also owns Santa Anita Park where stringent reforms regarding medications and the use of whips were enacted by the ownership under pressure from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Governor Gavin Newsom. Statewide pressure also resulted in legislative passage giving the California Horseracing Board (CHRB) authority to ban racing for safety concerns. Del Mar, however, has not adopted the medication and whip reforms.

In a statement to ABC News, Humane Society CEO and President Kitty Block said the fatalities at Del Mar over the past weekend “underscore the urgent need for federal legislation to address serious regulatory shortcomings concerning race-day medication and transparency at the track and in the stable.”

“Even its greatest supporters understand that reforms such as those embodied within the Horseracing Integrity Act are desperately needed,” Block said. “This crucial bill will ban race day medication, substantially increase out-of-competition testing, and create a national and uniform set of medication policies. The deaths of many horses will be prevented by the bill’s passage, and it will rid the sport of those who place winning above animal welfare. The unfortunate reality is these incidents are not isolated and will keep happening unless industry reforms and regulations are implemented and enforced.”

Key among reforms being sought is a total ban on race day medications such as Furosemide, trade named Lasix/Salix, used in humans to relieve cardiac water retention. The medication encourages urination in racehorses and is believed to prevent respiratory bleeding. Opponents maintain it hides a genetic predisposition to bleeding, which is then passed on to a horse’s progeny. In Europe, Lasix is regarded as a performance enhancing drug (PED) and is banned.

A soon-to-be-published essay in The Bloodhorse will provide results of a study recommending that phenylbutazone, the anti-inflammatory drug commonly referred to as “bute,” may actually contribute to the breakdown of racehorses and will recommend “zero tolerance” for use of the drug.

The use of drugs in racehorses is a key element of The Horseracing Integrity Act. Initially introduced in the 2017-18 Congress as H.R. 2651 sponsored by Representative Andy Barr (R-KY), the bill has been reintroduced as H.R. 1754 sponsored by Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY). The Horseracing Integrity Act:

“…establishes the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority as an independent, private non-profit corporation with responsibility for developing and administering an anti-doping and medication control program for (1) Thoroughbred, Quarter, and Standardbred horses that participate in horse races; and (2) the personnel engaged in the care, training, or racing of such horses.”

If passed, H.R. 1754 would give the Federal Trade Commission oversight authority for five years, then cede oversight authority to each of the 38 individual states conducting racing in the U.S. to any of the jurisdictions seeking state oversight enforcement.

Details of the bill and its sponsors are available here.

The bill has 197 co-sponsors in the House and the strong support of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) as well as other animal welfare organizations. It was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Mar. 14 and currently remains in Committee.

Primary opposition to its passage is among those industry stakeholders and political representatives who oppose the banning of medication in U.S. racing and/or its Federal control.